CBC Digital Archives

Trudeau goes to China

"When the sleeping dragon awakes," Napoleon once said of China, "he will shake the world." In the 20th century, multiple upheavals shook the Asian giant. The rule of emperors gave way to civil war and the Communist revolution, closing China to the world. The doors slowly opened in the 1970s with new diplomatic ties and economic reforms. The crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989 barely checked China's growth, and today the world's most populous nation is on its way to superpower status. CBC Archives presents China as CBC journalists have seen it over the decades.

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Pierre Trudeau has been to China twice before, but the third time it's as prime minister. Canada and China have recently established diplomatic ties, and Trudeau is hoping to secure access to the Chinese market for Canadian business. On a 1973 tour that includes such highlights as the Great Wall and martial-arts displays, Trudeau gets a last-minute invitation: a visit with Chairman Mao. This CBC-TV clip includes a segment about the meeting from Chinese TV. 
• This was not the first time Trudeau had met Chairman Mao. On his 1960 visit, the pair met briefly in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
• Mao - known in his country as "the Great Helmsman" - was rarely seen in public at the time of Trudeau's 1973 visit; he was almost 80 years old.
• Trudeau and his delegation didn't specifically ask to see Mao, meeting instead mainly with his deputy Zhou Enlai.

• In his memoirs, Trudeau recalled his meeting with Mao: "We went into a very dark room with all the curtains drawn, and there was this venerable gentleman, with his round face and balding head, sitting, looking like a sort of Buddha. He did most of the talking. I was interested in his foreign policy views, and I remember that we had a long discussion about the Middle East. All in all, it was a rather impressive occasion."

• Before leaving on the trip, Trudeau said his primary aim was to discuss trade with the Chinese. But the Globe and Mail pointed out that Chinese trade numbers were minuscule compared with Canada's and were "likely to remain so as long as the first principle of Chinese economic policy remains that of self-reliance."
• The newspaper also said that "even Mr. Trudeau's entreaties are not likely in themselves to bring a change to Chinese trading policies."

• Mao died in 1976. After his death a group known as the Gang of Four (including Mao's wife, Jiang Qing) tried to seize power in China. Instead they were arrested and placed on trial in 1980. All served lengthy terms in prison.
• In 1978, after a transitional period, Deng Xiaoping became China's "paramount leader." He had formerly been China's third-in-command, after Mao and Zhou Enlai.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: Oct. 19, 1973
Reporter: Ron Collister
Duration: 5:42

Last updated: November 10, 2014

Page consulted on November 10, 2014

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